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Full text of "Brief memoir of the old French fort at Toronto"

3 9004 01514902 






BRIEF MEMOIR 



OLD FRMCH FOET AT TORONTO. 



BY THE REV. DR. SCADDING. 



77 



BRIEF MEMOIR 



OLD FRENCH FORT AT TORONTO 



BY THE REV. DR. SCADDING 



[The foundation stone of an Obelisk to mark the site of the old French fort or 
trading post at Toronto, was laid on the last day of the Semi-Centennial week, 
1884, by the Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, assisted by the Mayor of Toronto, 
A. Boswell, Esq., and J. B. McMurrich, Esq., Chairman of the Semi-Centennial 
Committee. The following paper, prepared at the request of the Committee, was 
read on the occasion.] 

The domain of the Five Nations of the Iroquois, which extended 
along the whole of the south side of Lake Ontario, was, for a time, 
regarded, in theory at least, as neutral ground, by the French of New 
France and the English of New England. But both French and 
English soon shewed a desire to obtain a foothold there ; first for the 
purposes of trade, and, secondly, with a view, it cannot be doubted, 
of ultimate possession by treaty or otherwise. 

By permission from the neighbouring Aborigines, La Salle, in 1679 ? 
erected a small stockade at the mouth of the Niagara River, to be 
simply a receptacle for the peltries brought down from the far West, 
from Michilimackinac and Detroit, by way of Lake Erie ; which 
stockade, by 1725 had become the strong, solid fortress which, with 
some enlargements, we see to-day in good order on the eastern side 
of the entrance to the world-famous river just named. 

Following the French example, Governor Burnett of the Province 
of New York, in 1722, after obtaining a nominal permission from 
the surrounding Iroquois, established a small store-house or trading- 
post on the west side of the entrance to the River Oswego, a stream 
by which a communication could be conveniently maintained with 
the Mohawk River and the Hudson and the sea. Its use and purpose 
were ostensibly the same as those of La Salle's enclosure at Niagara ; 
but in 1728 Governor Burnett took care that the simple stockade 
should be transformed into a stone fort mounting cannon, memor- 
able as being the first military work on the shores of Lake Ontario, 
whence waved the flag of England. 

The effect of the English trading-post at the entrance of the 
Oswego River was soon felt by the French traffickers in furs at fort 
Niagara and fort Frontenac ; and by consequence at Montreal and 



1267 



4 BRIEF MEMOIR OF THE 

Quebec and in Old France ; and in a Journal or Report of Canadian 
affairs transmitted to France in 1749, we have a record of the 
measures proposed and adopted, to nullify, as far as possible, this 
unwelcome interference with the usual current of trade. In that 
document (which may be seen at p. 201, vol. X., Paris Documents, 
Colonial History, State of New York, published at Albany in 1858) 
the Governor- General of the day, or rather, as it happened, the provi- 
sional Governor-General of the day, M. De la Galissoniere, informs 
the government of Louis XV., that he had given directions for the 
building of a stockade or store-house at Toronto. " On being informed," 
says Galissoniere, "that the northern Indians ordinarily went to 
Choueguen with their peltries by way of Toronto on the north-west 
side of Lake Ontario, twenty-five leagues from Niagara and seventy- 
five from fort Frontenac, it was thought advisable to establish a post 
at that place ; and to send thither an officer, fifteen soldiers, and some 
workmen to construct a small stockade-fort there." 

The authorities at Paris or Versailles were always cautioning the 
governors against expense in Canada. Galissoniere therefore thinks 
it prudent to observe : " The expense will not be great ; the timber 
is transported there, and the remainder will be conveyed by the 
barques belonging to Fort Frontenac." He then shews how the new 
post may be maintained, and how its main object can be secured. 
" Too much care," he says, " cannot be taken to prevent those In- 
dians (from the north) continuing their trade with the English ; and 
to furnish them at this post with all their necessaries, even as cheap 
as at Choueguen. Messrs. de la Jonquiere," he continues, " and 
Bigot (i.e., the Governor, who had now arrived to take Gal issonie re's 
place, and his co-adjutor or intendant) will permit some canoes to go 
there on license ; and will apply the funds as a gratuity to the officer 
in command there." Directions must be given, he then says, to re- 
gulate the prices at the other posts. " It will be necessary to order 
the commandants at Detroit, Niagara, and Fort Frontenac, to be 
careful that the traders and store-keepers of those posts furnish 
goods for two or three years to come, at the same rate as the English ; 
by this means the Indians will disaccustom themselves from going to 
Choue*guen, and the English will be obliged to abandon that place." 
(It is scarcely necessary to say that Choueguen, written by the Jesuits 
Ochoue*guen, is the same name as Oswego with an initial nasal syllable 
dropped. It may be mentioned too that a fort at Toronto had been 
suggested some years before, namely in 1686, by Governor de Den- 
on ville.) 

"We have hints in GalissonieYe's document of dissatisfaction at forts 
Niagara and Frontenac, at the prospect of diminished business in 
consequence of the establishment of a new trading-post at Toronto. 
The complaints are thus met. He is informed by M. Bigot, he says, 



OLD FRENCH FORT AT TORONTO, 

that " if there' be less trade at those two last-mentioned forts, there 
will be less transportation of merchandize ; what will be lost on the 
one side will be gained on the other, and it will amount to much the 
same in the end. The King will even reap a great advantage, if we 
can accomplish the fall of Choneguen by disgusting the Indians with 
that place ; and this can be effected only by selling cheap to them. 
M. Bigot," he continues, "will attend to this. He proposes to oblige 
those who will farm Toronto to sell their goods at a reasonable price. 
M. de la Jonquiere .the newly-arrived Governor) observes," he then 
finally adds, " that it would be desirable if we could become masters 
of Choueguen." 

As to the form and size of the fort at Toronto, we obtain very 
precise information in the Memoir upon the Late War in North 
America in 1 755-60 by Capt. Puchot, the last French commandant 
at Fort Niagara. " The fort of Toronto " Puchot says, (p. 119, Vol 
II.) is at the end of the bay (i.e., the west end), on the side which 
is quite elevated and covered /probably in the original, protected) by 
flat rock so that vessels cannot approach within cannon shot." Pu- 
chot had seen the fort, but he writes in the past tense, after its de- 
struction : " This fort or post," he says, " was a square of about 
thirty toises on a side externally, with flanks of fifteen feet. The 
curtains formed the buildings of the fort. It was very well built, 
piece upon piece, but was only useful for trade. A league west of 
the fort, he adds, is the mouth of the Toronto river, which is of con- 
siderable size. This river communicates with Lake Huron by a por- 
tage of fifteen leagues, and is frequented by the Indians who come 
from the north." 

That the fort at Toronto was officially named fort Pounde", we learn 
from a despatch of M. de Longueuil, Governor-General, addressed in 
17-^2 to R.ouille' himself, who was Minister of Marine, i.e., of the 
Colonies, at Paris or Versailles : his full name and title being 
Antoine Louis Rouille', Count de Jouy. The official or complimen- 
tary name, however, seems almost immediately to have lapsed into 
the popular one of Fort Toronto ; from its being situated close to 
the landing-place of the portage leading northwards to Lake Toronto, 
i. e., Lake Simcoe, along the valley of the river Toronto, i. e., the 
Humber ; and in this very despatch, M. de Longueuil uses both ex- 
pressions. Speaking of a missing soldier who had recently been sent 
with despatches from the post of Niagara to the post of Fort Fron- 
tenac, via Toronto, he says : " the commandant at Niagara, M. de la 
Levalterie, had detached a soldier to convey certain despatches to 
Fort Pouille, with orders to the store-keeper at that post to transmit 
them promptly to Montreal. It is not known," he then adds, " what 
became of that soldier. About the same time, he says, a Mississaga 
from Toronto arrived at Niagara who informed M. de la Levalterie 



b BRIEF MEMOIR OF THE 

that he had not seen that soldier at the fort, nor met with him on 
the way. It is to be feared that he has been killed by the Indians, 
and the despatches carried to the English." In the same document 
from the pen of M. de Longueuil, we are informed that u the store- 
keeper at Toronto writes to M. de Yercheres, commandant at Fort 
Frontenac, that some trustworthy Indians have assured him that the 
Saulteurs (Indians of the Sault) who killed our Frenchman some years 
ago, have dispersed themselves along the head of Lake Ontario, and 
seeing himself surrounded by them, he doubts not but they have 
some evil design on his fort ; there is no doubt but it is the Eng- 
lish, he says, who are inducing the Indians to destroy the French, 
and that they would give a good deal to get the savages to destroy 
Fort Toronto, on account of the essential injury it does their trade 
at Choudguen." We can form some idea of the amount of business 
transacted at Toronto, from the testimony of Sir William Johnson 
in 1767. "I have heard traders of long experience and good cir- 
cumstances affirm," Sir William says, " that for the exclusive trade 
of the post (at Toronto) they would willingly pay £1,000 for one 
season, so cei'tain were they of a quiet market from the cheapness 
at which they could afford their goods there." 

In 1756 the suggestion of Governor de la Jonquiere that the 
French should become masters of Choudguen was carried into effect 
by no less a person than Montcalm, who afterwards fell at Quebec. 
He assaulted the English fort at Choueguen, and captured it ; but the 
act was speedily avenged by the English general Bradstreet, who 
took the stronghold of Fort Frontenac itself in that year, 1758. 

The crisis was now at hand. In this same year, 1758, the Gover- 
nor-General, de Yaudreuil, in a despatch to the Minister of Marine 
at Paris, M. de Messiac, writes : — " If the English should make their 
appearance at Toronto, I have given orders to burn it at once, and to 
fall back on Niagara." Then in the following year, 1759, we have 
the last reference to Toronto in the French despatches. After stating 
that he had ordered down what reinforcements he could from Illinois 
and Detroit, for the protection of fort Niagara, M. de Vaudreuil 
writes to the same Minister at Paris, that, " Those forces would pro- 
ceed to the relief of Niagara, should the enemy wish to besiege it ; 
and I have in like manner," he says, "sent orders to Toronto, to 
collect the Mississagas and other nations and forward them to 
Niagara." 

On the 25th of July, 1759, the fortress of Niagara fell, and 
Quebec followed on the 18th of September, in the same year. Not 
many days before that 25th of July, watchers on the ramparts of the 
beleaguered Niagara would perceive a column of smoke ascending 
from the far horizon in the direction of Toronto. This would be an 
indication that the orders of M. de Yaudreuil had been obeyed, and 



OLD FRENCH FORT AT TORONTO. 7 

that in a few hours, all that the English or any one else approaching 
the spot, would ever again see of that trading-post, would be simply 
a confused mass of charred timber with a low chimney-stack of 
coarse brick surrounded by a shattered flooring of broad flagstones 
from the adjoining beach. So ended Fort Rouilld, Fort Toronto, or 
the old French fort, whichever we may choose to call it. In 1788, 
Captain Gother Mann was able to trace remains of five buildings, 
great and small, as appears from his very interesting plan of the Bay 
and its surroundings, lately found in London by Mr. Hodgins. In 
the remains of Fort Toronto, visible down to 1878, the precise num- 
ber of buildings could not be so clearly discerned ; but the situation 
of a chimney-stack, various depressions in the greensward and the 
line of the pickets which had surrounded the enclosure could all 
readily Ipe made out ; and that these were vestiges of the old French 
fort Toronto, was a matter of common notoriety. 

As we have already seen, our fort Toronto was one of a quadrila- 
teral of forts, so to speak, on the shores of Lake Ontario ; Frontenac, 
Choueguen and Niagara being the other three. Kingston still shews 
to its sons and daughters, and to strangers, the site and remains of 
its old fort Frontenac. Oswego shews to its sons and daughters, and 
to strangers, the site and remains of the old fort Oswego or Choueguen, 
as well as the site of another structure of the colonial times, the 
second fort Oswego ; to say nothing of Fort Ontario. And Niagara 
points, not simply to the site of the fort of La Salle, but to its imme- 
diate solid successor, standing complete and in good order to this day. 
It also points to two other sites of Military works, both of them 
objects of much interest, Fort George and Fort Mississaga. 

Toronto is less rich in relics and memories of a hundred years ag > 
than these towns. The spot on which we are standing is in fact the 
only one amongst us that can with truth be called an ancient historic 
site. The exigencies of the Industrial Exhibition Association in 
1878, required that the ground here should be levelled down and 
made smooth, and that the crumbling edge of the cliff should be 
straightened and guarded from further waste. This unfortunately 
led to the utter obliteration of the remains of our old French fort. 
Therefore the call is all the more imperative and pressing to re-estab- 
lish, as we are about to do, some indication of its former existence, not 
likely soon again to disappear — some indication, that is to say, of the 
former existence of a structure which was virtually the first germ of 
Toronto, and which linked the history of Toronto with the history of 
French Canada and the fates of France under the regime of Louis 
the Fifteenth. 



[I am informed by Mr. Durnford, of Hauteville. in Guernsey, that Capt. Gother 
Mann, R.E., above named, attained the rank of General, and was appointed 
Inspector General of Fortifications, and that a son of his was an officer of the 
Royal Engineers, as is also a grandson now living ; likewise that the Rev. F. W. 
Mann, Rector of the parish of Catel, in Guernsey, is another grandson (1884).] 



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